Parenting at less than 100 percent
Parenting by Jessica Begley
This occupation known as parenting is a difficult and complex juggling act. One that’s hard enough to navigate when you have both parents present, healthy, and equally divvying up the workload. So, in families accustomed to sharing the work, when one of the parents gets sick or injured, it wreaks havoc on the entire family, just as it has in my family.
You see, for the past four months I’ve suffered from a chronic nerve pain syndrome (CRPS). It’s gotten in the way of absolutely everything! Making it impossible to take care of my family and daily chores, and causing issues in our schedule, and adding countless doctor’s and specialist appointments into the mix. Sadly, due to my illness we’ve found it necessary to make some major changes to how we manage our family life. It’s those changes and the insights we’ve gleaned from this chapter of our lives that I want to share in the hopes of helping others in our situation.
So whether you are battling the flu or dealing with a long-term disability, it’s imperative to approach this challenging time with an attitude of grace, flexibility and above all – patience.
It’s crucial to rely upon and enlist the help of the people who care about you: If you’re like me, then you just hate imposing on others. I know my family and friends have extremely busy lives without me adding to their workloads. So who am I to ask them to take on even more? But guess what, that’s the wrong question! Remember your friends and loved ones want to help.
Write down a descriptive family schedule: When my pain started, it wasn’t easy for Bryan to know how to help me or how and where he needed to take our girls. You see, all that important information was in my brain, and not down on paper. But thankfully by creating a schedule together, we both felt in the loop. We knew what things needed to happen, and when, and that allowed us to prioritize.
At this time the well parent is likely to feel over-burdened; as they will assuredly have extra work. This is the perfect time to decide together what gets dropped.
Give Yourself a Break: Okay, time to put the parental guilt to rest. Take it easy. Slow down for a few days or for more than a few – whatever it takes. And take the sage advice you would give another parent or friend in your same position: forget about the laundry for a while and let the housekeeping go for a few days. Feel free to order food in for dinner each night instead of cooking and let the dishes sit in the sink. Don’t worry; those things will be waiting for you when you get better.
Remember to be empathetic to the other parent’s current situation: Keep in mind that this is an extremely hard time for both parents.
The sick parent needs to - Express gratitude! You know how challenging your day normally is and now your duties are falling on your spouse. Try to receive the help as graciously as possible.
The well parent needs to - Try to be especially patient and sympathetic! Keep in mind that being sick is miserable. Your spouse feels awful, isn’t getting rest, and has no idea if, or when, he or she will be better.
Inquire about flexible work schedules: Taking care of a family demands around-the-clock attention, so that if one parent is out of commission, one of the best ways to juggle this situation is to make your work schedule more flexible.
A very important question to ask would be -- can the well parent work from home? Use vacation and sick days? Work different hours? If this is not a possibility, then the well working parent needs to arrange childcare, whether through neighbors willing to help, family members, or from a list of trusted babysitters or nannies. In our own situation thankfully, Bryan was able to work from home, which meant he had the freedom to take me to doctor’s appointments, take the girls to and from school, help out around the house, and just be available during the day.
Share time together: It’s doubtful you’ll be seeing very many date nights in the foreseeable future but that doesn’t mean you can’t make time for one another. It is more important than ever, for your relationship, to take time together that is unstressed. Don’t let nurturing your relationship be one of the things that get axed when you’re prioritizing your schedule. Your relationship is what holds the family securely together in sickness and in health.
While I wouldn’t wish my experience this last four months on anyone in the world, through it, Bryan and I’ve found new ways to cope, new ways to communicate as a couple, and we’ve found new ways to work together as parents. And thankfully, we’ll be able to carry these newly acquired life lessons forward -- Hopefully from a place of healing.
Jessica L. Begley, MFT lives in Southlake with her husband, two daughters and their golden retrievers. Jessica is a Marriage and Family Therapist and Child Development Specialist.